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An Enemy of the People

CHARACTERS: SUMMARY

Doctor Thomas Stockmann - A practicing medical doctor, the medical The town in which the play is set has built a huge bathing complex that
officer of the town baths, and the brother of the mayor, who got him the job at is crucial to the town's economy. Dr. Stockmann has just discovered that the
the baths. Stockmann is idealistic and excitable. For much of his life he was baths' drainage system is seriously contaminated. He alerts several members
destitute and lived in the countryside; now he is happy to be fairly prosperous of the community, including Hovstad and Aslaksen, and receives generous
and living in a bustling town. support and thanks for making his discovery in time to save the town. The next
morning, however, his brother, who is also the town's mayor, tells him that he
Mrs. Katherine Stockmann - Dr. Stockmann's wife. She is loyal and practical must retract his statements, for the necessary repairs would be too expensive;
and often encourages her husband to think of his family when he is being rash. additionally, the mayor is not convinced by Dr. Stockmann's findings. The
Morten Kiil is her adoptive father, or grandfather, depending on translation. brothers have a fierce argument, but Dr. Stockmann hopes that at least
Hovstad's newspaper will support him. However, the mayor convinces
Petra Stockmann - The daughter of Thomas and Katherine, Petra is as Hovstad and Aslaksen to oppose Dr. Stockmann.
idealistic as her father. She is a hard-working teacher, and she is frustrated
that the law requires her to teach things she doesn't believe in. The doctor holds a town meeting to give a lecture on the baths, but
Aslaksen and the mayor try to keep him from speaking. Dr. Stockmann then
Peter Stockmann - Peter is Dr. Stockmann's brother. He is also chairman of begins a long tirade in which he condemns the foundations of the town and the
the baths committee. He is a cautious but sometimes ruthless politician. tyranny of the majority. The audience finds his speech incredibly offensive, and
the next morning the doctor's home is vandalized. He and his daughter are
Hovstad - Hovstad is editor of The People's Herald, the town's leftist fired. The mayor insinuates that the doctor's actions were merely a scheme to
newspaper. Although slightly corrupt, he is at heart a political radical. inherit more of Morten Kiil's money, and Kiil himself soon arrives to suggest
just such a plan to Dr. Stockmann. However, the doctor refuses all such
Aslaksen - Aslaksen is the newspaper's printer. Because he lets the paper suggestions and decides to defy authority and remain in town. His family is
print on credit, he has a degree of editorial control. He is also the chairman of supportive, and he says that the strongest man is the man who stands alone.
the homeowners association, which represents the town's small business
class, the majority of voters. He also has great influence with the Temperance CONTEXT
Society, and he is a lover of moderation.
Henrik Ibsen was one of the world's greatest dramatists. He was the
Billing - An assistant at the newspaper, he is a radical, like Hovstad, but he is leading figure of an artistic renaissance that took place in Norway at the end
also ambitious and plans to run for office. He is in some way courting Petra. of the nineteenth century, a renaissance that also included the painter Edvard
Munch. Ibsen lived from 1828 to 1906. He grew up in poverty, studied medicine
Captain Horster - A ship captain who has little interest in local politics, Horster for a while, then abandoned that to write plays. In 1858, he published his first
provides the hall for Doctor Stockmann's speech, but he is fired from his ship play, The Vikings at Helgeland. That same year, he married Susannah
as a result. Thoresen, the daughter of a pastor.

Morten Kiil - A rich old man, Kiil owns several of the tanneries that Dr. Ibsen obtained a scholarship to travel to Italy, where he wrote the plays
Stockmann implicates in his water pollution report. He is the adoptive father or that would establish his reputation, Brand and Peer Gynt. These were long,
grandfather (depending on the translation) of Mrs. Stockmann, and his will historical verse plays. He lived most of the rest of his life in Italy and Germany.
assigns a good deal of wealth to her and her children. Starting in 1869, he began to write prose plays. Some critics would say that at
this point in his life, Ibsen abandoned poetry and took up realism. In 1877, he
began what became a series of five plays in which he examines the moral
faults of modern society. In order of appearance, the plays were The Pillars of
Society, A Doll's House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, and The Wild Duck.

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the doctor will not tell him what he is talking about, and he tells Dr. Stockmann
An Enemy of the People attacks the institution of the liberal that he should think more of how to function within a society and less as an
newspaper. Like all of the plays in this series, An Enemy of the People deals individual. Angrily, he leaves.
with the extent to which individual desires and beliefs are compromised by
society. In particular, the play focuses on the ways in which an individual can Hovstad, Billing, Horster, and Mrs. Stockmann come in for liqueurs
be ostracized by the society he is trying to help. The problems of the play's and cigarettes. Hovstad talks of the rocky relationship between the mayor and
hero, Dr. Stockmann, are not far removed from the problems Ibsen the People's Herald. Horster says that he is sailing for America soon, and the
experienced after the publication of Ghosts. In a letter written around the time two newspapermen, Billing and Hovstad, are shocked that he doesn't care that
of the play's composition, Ibsen noted: "Dr. Stockmann and I got on excellently he will miss the upcoming election. Petra enters, tired from teaching her night
together; we agree on so many subjects." school classes. She has a letter that Dr. Stockmann has been eagerly looking
for. He goes into the study to read it. Meanwhile, Petra and the newspapermen
Like all of Ibsen's plays, An Enemy of the People was originally written start up a discussion of paganism. Meanwhile, Billing and Hovstad decry the
in Norwegian and is full of untranslatable wordplay. Specifically, a number of hypocrisy that Petra must go through as a teacher.
the character's titles exists only in Norwegian bureaucracy. For the sake of
clarity, in this SparkNote, Peter Stockmann is referred to as the mayor, Morten Dr. Stockmann comes in waving the letter. He says that no one will be
Kiil is Mrs. Stockmann's adoptive father, and Hovstad is editor of the People's able to call this discovery another one of his delusions. Apparently, the baths,
Herald. which are viewed as the savior of the town, are polluted. The doctor sent
samples from the water to a lab, and now the results are back, in the letter he
ACT 1 has received. Milldale, near the source of the baths' water, is full of polluted
water that seeps into the baths' pump room. The pollution comes from
The scene is Dr. Stockmann's living room; the dining room is visible tanneries and other industry. Dr. Stockmann assures everyone that the
through a door downstage. Mrs. Stockmann welcomes Billing to her dinner problem can be fixed by replacing the water system. The doctor further notes
table. He is late, and so the meat is cold. There is a knock at the door; it is her that if the town had followed his advice about how to build the drains in the first
brother-in-law, the mayor. He says he doesn't want to indulge in so much food place, they would not have had these problems. The group is very enthusiastic
so late at night. Hovstad, the editor, arrives. He and the mayor greet each other and praises the doctor for saving the town.
stiffly and begin talking about the baths. They both agree that the new baths
are going to be very good for the town. It is mentioned that the baths were Commentary
originally Dr. Stockmann's idea, a suggestion that upsets the mayor.
Many of the characters in An Enemy of the People are very concerned
Hovstad goes to eat, and soon Dr. Stockmann arrives. With him he with politics. The mayor is interested in maintaining his position. He is very
brings his two sons, Eilif and Morten, and Captain Horster, another late guest disturbed when Dr. Stockmann talks of a younger generation growing up to
for dinner. He shows him into the dining room before noticing the mayor. The change things. He also seems very insecure, which is no doubt related to the
mayor is surprised to see how much the guests eat. The doctor counters by rather competitive spirit shared by him and his brother. The popular opinion
talking about the excitement of watching young people eat--young people who that the baths were the idea of Dr. Stockmann enrages the mayor.
will eventually grow up and improve society. He contrasts them with "old
fossils" like himself and the mayor, who is slightly perturbed by these notions. The doctor is a very complicated character. He is very pleased with
He comforts the mayor by mentioning how happy he is to be living in a city and the material trappings of his living room, available to him now that he has the
to have a sturdy income. position of medical officer at the baths. The doctor lived a very poor existence
for a long time, in the countryside. It is unclear why he was poor in the
The mayor asks Dr. Stockmann about an article he has written for countryside while his brother was rising through the political hierarchy of the
Hovstad's newspaper. The doctor quickly says that he hopes the article will town. More than anything, the doctor seems to be a very enthusiastic, idealistic
not be printed just yet as it may not be appropriate depending on some man--a cross between a revolutionary and an absentminded professor.
developments that the doctor is as yet unsure of. The mayor is aggravated that

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Petra shares the doctor's fervent belief in truth and freethinking, as leaves, and Dr. Stockmann goes to talk with his family. He tells them he is very
revealed by her discussion with Hovstad and Billing. Mrs. Stockmann, on the proud to have the "solid majority" behind him.
other hand, is much more moderate. Although she believes in these ideals,
she realizes that they have their limits. As the play progresses, she The mayor arrives. He is upset that the doctor conducted the
encourages her husband to consider his family's well-being before he speaks investigation without telling him. He is concerned that the report exaggerates
out on controversial issues. the situation. He says that the cost to make the suggested repairs would be
very expensive and take two years. He says that he is not convinced that there
The term "freethinking" is used often in the play. Almost all the is a real problem. He goes on to describe how losing the baths would be a
characters, except for Aslaksen and the mayor, claim to be freethinkers; it is catastrophe to the town's economy. He says that the board might be willing to
important to note which of them sticks by their claims and to see exactly what make some changes in a few years.
the term "freethinking" means in a closely knit democracy.
Dr. Stockmann is outraged. Throughout his speech, he makes
ACT 2 amazed interjections. He says that he will not submit to the fraud that the
mayor is suggesting. The mayor insists that nothing about the pollution must
The setting is again Dr. Stockmann's living room. Mrs. Stockmann reach the public, but the doctor tells him that the People's Herald will support
gives him a letter. It is the report on the pollution of the baths that he had sent him and print a story about it. The mayor responds by talking about what a
off to his brother the mayor. It has been returned, with a note that the mayor helpful brother he's been--getting the doctor a job--and he goes on to say that
will come by to speak with the doctor. He and Mrs. Stockmann agree that the he hoped to gain control of the doctor by employing him. Now, the doctor will
mayor is probably jealous that Dr. Stockmann made the discovery. lose his job if he does not cooperate. The mayor feels that the doctor is out of
control, an embarrassment to himself and to the city. The brothers rehash their
Morten Kiil stops by. He is delighted by the "monkeyshine" that argument over who is responsible for the baths. Dr. Stockmann reminds his
Stockmann has invented and says that he will laugh if the city leaders are brother that if his original plan had been followed, there would be no problem.
stupid enough to believe it. He emphasizes that the "tiny animals" in the water The mayor insists that the doctor merely cannot submit to authority. He
are too little to see. Hovstad enters, and he and the doctor go to speak in demands that the doctor "conduct further studies" and make a public
private. Hovstad tells the doctor that he hopes to use the information about the announcement that his findings were false. He asserts that, when acting as an
pollution of the baths as a starting point for an all-out attack on the city's employee, the doctor has no individual rights. At this moment, Petra, who has
leadership. He says that the real pollution comes from them. The doctor agrees been listening at the door, bursts in and tells her father that he must stand up
that conservatism is bad, but he is hesitant to attack the town's leadership, for himself. The mayor urges Mrs. Stockmann to try to have some practical
which is made up of the most qualified men, including his own brother. influence over her husband.

Aslaksen stops by. He wants to assure Dr. Stockmann that he can The mayor leaves. Mrs. Stockmann tries to convince her husband that
count on the support of the Temperance Society and the powerful he doesn't have the power to take on his brother. She urges him to remember
Homeowners Association. Aslaksen is the chairman of the latter. He wants to his family, but Petra protests. Dr. Stockmann explains that he will never be
stage a moderate demonstration in favor of fixing the baths. Dr. Stockmann happy if he bows to the mayor's demands, and when his family is mentioned,
does not think this will be necessary, as he is convinced that the baths' board he explains that he will never be able to look his sons in the eyes if he doesn't
of directors will see that the repairs are necessary. Aslaksen emphasizes that keep trying.
he does not want to upset the town leaders. Dr. Stockmann is quite moved by
Aslaksen's support. The plot of this play traces the changing popularity of Dr. Stockmann's
proposal. In the first act, everyone seemed to support it. In this act, however,
After Aslaksen leaves, Hovstad calls him a cowardly, if decent, man. the audience sees how the townspeople react in different ways to his proposal
Dr. Stockmann is confused, but he tells Hovstad that if the mayor refuses to to fix the baths.
make changes to the water system--as unthinkable as this seems to the
doctor--Hovstad an print the doctor's entire report in the paper. The editor

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Morten Kiil thinks that the proposal is a joke. He notes that the bacteria his report to make sure that are no typos or mistakes. The doctor is deeply
that are supposedly polluting the water are invisible. Even Hovstad's moved by their support and encouragement.
enthusiastic support foreshadows danger. He wants to use the report to topple
the local bureaucracy. He seems to be interested in how useful the report is to After he leaves, Hovstad and Aslaksen agree that Dr. Stockmann will
him. In other words, if someone can convince him that publicizing the report is be very useful to them, although for different reasons. Aslaksen is worried that
not in his best interests, he might not print it. Aslaksen supports the move to the doctor is not prudent enough, but Hovstad wants to use him as a political
fix the baths, but already he shows himself to be prudent to a fault. If the mayor firebrand. Changing the subject, Aslaksen mentions that Governor Stensgard
can make the project look risky or dangerous to Aslaksen, he might withdraw sat in Hovstad's editor's chair before him. Billing says something about mixing
his support. radical journalism and politics, and Aslaksen reminds Billing that he himself is
running for council secretary. Billing assures them that he is only doing it to
The mayor raises a number of solid complaints against Dr. annoy the establishment.
Stockmann's proposal to fix the baths. It is easy to root for the doctor and to
see the mayor as a corrupt politician, but it is not Ibsen's intent to create a play Aslaksen steps out, and Billing and Hovstad discuss how much they
of good versus evil. The doctor is perhaps too surprised by the mayor's would like to get rid of him. They depend on him because he lets them print on
resistance. He wants complete agreement or he is ready to go to war. credit. They wonder whether Dr. Stockmann might be able to help finance the
Furthermore, it should be remembered that the play was written in the late paper. He will likely become wealthy, since the rich Morten Kiil will probably
nineteenth century and that it is not surprising that people are skeptical when remember the Stockmanns in his will. Billing leaves and Petra enters. She had
told about bacteria. The doctor also appears to have a long history of coming agreed to translate an English story for the paper, but now she refuses, on the
up with eccentric plans. grounds that its content is against everything for which the paper stands. The
article is about a higher purpose guiding people's actions. Hovstad replies that
The doctor, however, clings to his idea, just as he clings to his moral Billing, who Petra is in some manner courting, thought the piece would be good
obligation to publicize his findings and to save the people from the fodder to keep the paper's simpler readers happy. Petra is shocked to hear
consequences of bathing in polluted water. He is an idealist, but he is also an that Billing would be so calculating, and Hovstad also mentions Billing's run for
innocent. He doesn't understand Hovstad's interest in manipulating the secretary. Petra still refuses to do the piece, but she thanks Hovstad for his
pollution discovery to other purposes, and he was unable to predict the many support of her father. He implies that it makes it easier that she is his daughter,
economic and political consequences of his findings. This play, in many ways, and Petra leaves, disgusted.
is about the extent to which individual innocence can survive in modern
society. The mayor arrives, to Hovstad's surprise. The mayor comments on
how nicely the paper is set up. He begins to talk about the doctor's proposal
ACT 3 for the baths, but Hovstad plays dumb, until the mayor notices the doctor's
report laying on the desk. The mayor tells Hovstad and Aslaksen that if the
The set is the editorial office at the People's Herald. Hovstad is writing doctor's plan for the baths goes through, it will mean a huge sacrifice for the
at the desk. Billing enters with Dr. Stockmann's report. They discuss the town. The expenses will have to come out of a municipal loan, and the baths
doctor's powerful writing and how they hope to use it to attack the government. will have to be shut down for two years. Hovstad and Aslaksen begin to change
Aslaksen is in the other room, and they are careful not to let him hear. Hovstad their minds about supporting Dr. Stockmann. The mayor assures them that the
is excited, because if the mayor accepts the doctor's proposal, he will face the doctor's report is pure fantasy. Suddenly, they see that Dr. Stockmann himself
fury of the big stockholders, and if he rejects it, he will face the giant is approaching, and the mayor hides in a side room.
Homeowners Association.
The doctor wants to see the proofs of his article, but they're not yet
Dr. Stockmann enters and tells them about his argument with the ready. He expresses to the two men that if any kind of celebration is being
mayor. The three are excited to "tear down" the current administration. planned in his honor, he wants them to put a stop to it. Just as Hovstad is trying
Aslaksen enters, and they assure him that both the radicals and the moderates to tell the doctor how things really stand, Mrs. Stockmann enters. She has
will want to support the doctor. The doctor asks him to pay special attention to come to tell Dr. Stockmann not to throw away the livelihood of his family by

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printing his article. The doctor reminds her that he has the solid majority behind Mrs. Stockmann is committed to her husband, but she is also
him, and she tells him that it's a horrible thing to have behind him. He tells her committed to her family. When the doctor endangers the rest of his family by
to go home while he worries about society. Then, he notices the mayor's throwing away his job, she doesn't know what to do. She feels that Hovstad is
ceremonial hat and cane lying on a chair. He guesses that the mayor is nearby, fooling the doctor, and when Hovstad and all the other men turn on her
puts on the hat, and begins to parade about the office, until the mayor comes husband, she feels that her husband has been led into a trap. It appears to her
out in a fury. The doctor mocks his brother, convinced that he has everyone's that the doctor has consistently tried to do what is best and has been somehow
support. led into a very dangerous position by these men.

Aslaksen and Hovstad tell him they won't print the article. Hovstad A few miscellaneous things should be explained. The mention of
won't dare, because the subscribers control the paper and the proposal would "Governor Stensgard" by Aslaksen is an allusion to Ibsen's early play, The
ruin the town. The mayor gives Hovstad an official statement he can print to League of Youth, in which Stensgard was a central character. Aslaksen was
quell any rumors. The doctor resolves to hold a public meeting, but Aslaksen also a minor character in that play.
tells him that he won't find an organization to give him a hall.
ACT 4
In the second act, we saw the mayor turn on Dr. Stockmann. When
that happened, the doctor still felt confident because he had the People's The setting is a large hall in Captain Horster's house. It is crowded
Herald behind him. In the third act, we see Hovstad and Aslaksen turn against with townspeople. A number of them are discussing the meeting, and they
him. The mayor has an easy time convincing them to turn against Dr. decide to watch how Aslaksen responds to the issues presented. Billing is
Stockmann. It is no surprise that economic arguments and the lack of visible there to cover the meeting for the paper. Horster leads in Mrs. Stockmann and
evidence can be used to change Hovstad's mind. the children and sits them close to the door, so they can exit quickly if need
be. Hovstad, Aslaksen, and Mayor Stockmann enter and take up different
But Ibsen goes further and shows us that Hovstad is simply not a positions around the room. Dr. Stockmann enters to tentative applause and
reliable character. We learn that his support of the doctor is partly motivated hissing. Aslaksen quickly motions that a chairman be appointed, and he is
by his affection for Petra. He even betrays his friend Billing for the sake of quickly elected to be chair. The mayor immediately moves that Dr. Stockmann
getting closer to Petra. Even before the mayor arrives and speaks to Hovstad not be allowed to read his report or talk about the baths, whipping up support
and Aslaksen, they are discussing how they can use the doctor for their various from the crowd. He and Aslaksen work together to convince the crowd that the
ends. From the beginning, Hovstad is eager to use the doctor as a way to doctor is out to harm the town's best interests. Hovstad joins in and talks about
stimulate some sort of political revolution. When the mayor brings his carefully the welfare of the Stockmann family. The motion passes.
crafted arguments to men whose integrity is already compromised, they are
easily won over to his side. Dr. Stockmann is angry. Just as he is about to speak, a drunk wanders
in and demands for his right to be heard, but he is quickly ejected. Not
While the mayor and the doctor remain consistent in their opinions permitted to speak about the pollution in the baths, the doctor begins to speak
throughout the play, the newspapermen's ideas change. The mayor and the about the pollution in the towns. He talks of how he conceived the idea of the
doctor have clear motivations: The mayor wants to stay in power, whereas the baths because he wanted to work for the people. But then, he says, he realized
doctor is concerned with morality and science but not with economics or the "colossal stupidity of the authorities." Aslaksen tries to quiet him, but he
politics. The newspapermen, on the other hand, have many motivations, and, continues. He is talking about the failures of his brother the mayor, when the
therefore, they can't come to a clear conclusion. Hovstad is a leftist radical, but drunk enters again and is quickly thrown out. The doctor continues, saying that
he also wants to keep the paper in business, and he is interested in Petra. the authorities are not the worst enemies. The worst enemy, he says, is the
Ibsen uses these characters to illustrate how difficult it is to have a clear majority. The crowd goes wild with anger. Aslaksen urges the doctor to back
opinion in modern society. Hovstad can't afford to have a dangerous opinion his remarks. The doctor says that stupid people are in the majority and that
and is, therefore, helpless when the mayor or the doctor has the upper hand. power should lie in the hands of the minority. He says he does not advocate
aristocracy, but for the intelligent, freethinking minority. He says the idea of the
common, crass majority being in the right is an outdated truth. He asks

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Hovstad if, being another freethinker, he doesn't agree with him, but Hovstad support the doctor if he wanted to because he is subject to the demands of his
merely shouts that nowhere in print can it be proven that he is a freethinker. less freethinking subscribers.
The doctor continues, comparing the masses to mongrels and the intelligent
minority to purebreds. He attacks Hovstad for not agreeing with him, and When Dr. Stockmann accuses Hovstad of also being a freethinker,
Hovstad shouts out that he is descended from peasants and believes in the Hovstad defends himself on the grounds that he has never claimed to be a
people. The doctor sums up by saying that morality and freethinking go hand freethinker in print. In other words, Hovstad does not deny that he is a
in hand. He insists that his message will be heard and threatens to write to freethinker in private, but he merely asserts that he is never a freethinker in
newspapers in other towns. the public eye. He is afraid to let the majority know that he is a freethinker. By
claiming never to be a freethinker in print, Hovstad proves the doctor's point:
Hovstad declares that the doctor must be an enemy of the people, Intelligent individuals cannot act on their opinions because of fear of the
and, in his excitement, Dr. Stockmann agrees, urging that the town should be majority.
wiped out, that vermin should be destroyed. Aslaksen proposes that the
meeting declare the doctor "an enemy of the people." While Aslaksen is By staging the speech in a very public setting, Ibsen takes an
collecting the votes, Billings explains to several men that the doctor often opportunity to illustrate how the conventions of democracy can be manipulated
drinks and that he had recently been denied a raise. Morten Kiil approaches by those in power. The doctor has convened this public meeting to read his
the doctor and says that if his tanneries are implicated in bad publicity about report, but by electing a chairman and conducting the meeting according to
pollution, the doctor may suffer. Aslaksen announces that by a unanimous vote vague parliamentary rules, the mayor and the newspapermen are able to shut
Dr. Stockmann has been declared an enemy of the people. He leaves with his the doctor up. This shows that the tyranny of the majority is not absolute.
family, as the crowd chants "enemy."
ACT 5
Commentary
The setting is Dr. Stockmann's study. The windowpanes are broken.
This act represents the climax of the play. We see Dr. Stockmann at The doctor is picking up stones that have been thrown through the windows.
his most impassioned and the rest of the town at its most conservative and His landlord sends a letter giving the Stockmanns notice that they have to
conspiratorial. The men who were having dinner at Dr. Stockmann's house in move out. The doctor doesn't care because he is taking his family to the New
the first act are publicly denouncing him, and he is denouncing them. World on Horster's next boat. Mrs. Stockmann asks him if they should move
to another town in Norway, but the doctor replies that the population will be the
The doctor's point about the tyranny of the majority is complex. It is same wherever he goes and he doesn't want his sons to grow up among the
certainly not Ibsen's invention. The English political philosopher John Stuart "lapdogs" of Norway. He thinks that in the New World things might be different.
Mill wrote along similar lines earlier in the nineteenth century. It would be hasty
to assume that Dr. Stockmann is speaking Ibsen's own ideas. However, Ibsen Petra enters. Even though her supervisor at the school is
was certainly eager to express his frustrations with rule by majority in the wake "freethinking," she has been fired because of anonymous threats her
of the liberal media's condemnation of his previous play, Ghosts. supervisor received. Captain Horster arrives. He has been given notice by Vik,
the owner of the ship he sails. He is not worried; he can easily get a job with
It is ironic that the doctor chooses to speak on the tyranny of the an out of town ship owner, and he does not regret helping the Stockmanns.
majority in front of a crowd of townspeople. The mayor probably also believes The mayor arrives, and he and the doctor go to talk in private. The mayor has
in the rule of an intelligent minority, and he maintains it by conspiring with come to give the doctor notice regarding his position as medical officer of the
others that he deems part of the worthy minority. Dr. Stockmann's vision of baths and to ask the doctor to leave town for a while. If, after six months or so,
rule by the minority is different from the mayor's. The doctor sees that although the doctor will publicly retract his statements, he might be hired again. The
people like the mayor and Hovstad are technically in charge of the town doctor furiously refuses. Then, the mayor suggests that he has a reason for
government or the newspaper, they are still subject to the opinion of the feeling so secure in his defiance--Morten Kiil's will. The doctor does not
masses. The mayor really has no choice but to oppose the doctor's proposal understand, and the mayor explains that Kiil has provided for Mrs. Stockmann
for the baths, because he is the tool of the masses, and Hovstad could not and the children in his will. The doctor is jubilant, and when the mayor suggests

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that Kiil might redraw his will in light of the doctor's recent actions, the doctor
exclaims that, on the contrary, Kiil is happy to see the doctor causing trouble Commentary
for the authorities. The mayor then accuses the doctor of merely speaking out
in order to curry favor with Kiil and secure his family a part of the inheritance. By the end of An Enemy of the People, Dr. Stockmann's position has
The mayor then leaves, announcing that now that he has a weapon to use changed several times. Sometimes he seems to be proud that he is "an enemy
against the doctor, he can never get his job back. The doctor orders his wife of the people," but early in Act V he says that the words wound him and are
to scrub wherever the mayor has been. lodged in his heart. What is consistent is a sense of honor and a short temper.
His partial embrace of the title enemy of the people is full of sarcasm, as seen
Morten Kiil arrives. He brings with him a large number of shares in the when he turns on Hovstad and Aslaksen with his cane. He spoke out against
baths, which he has just bought. He is upset that his name might be tarnished the tyranny of the majority, but he still sees that men like Hovstad have a lot of
by rumors started by the doctor that his tanneries are polluting the baths. He control, and he is sincerely happy to be Hovstad's enemy. Thus, he eagerly
wants the doctor to retract his statements; to force him to do so, he has calls himself an enemy of the people to Hovstad's face, implying that corrupt
invested Mrs. Stockmann's inheritance in bath stocks. He was able to buy them Hovstad is the real enemy.
very cheap that morning, and if the doctor retracts his statements about the
baths, their value will skyrocket and Morten Kiil will own most of the baths-- As righteous as Dr. Stockmann may be, we should note that he
and start to make the repairs the doctor proposed. Kiil tells the doctor to come certainly makes things hard for himself. This is best captured in his decision to
to a decision by that afternoon. remain in town. He decides to stay because he is incredibly angry, and he
wants to keep fighting. In Act II, we see the mayor accuse Dr. Stockmann of
As Kiil leaves, Hovstad and Aslaksen enter. They also have a deal for being forever resentful of authority, implying that the doctor has a history of
Stockmann. They know that Kiil has been buying up stocks, and they propose attacking authority. Thus, Dr. Stockmann's position at the end of the play is as
to put the People's Herald at the doctor's disposal once he has control of the much a result of his morals as of his naturally defiant personality.
baths and let him pretend to fix the baths. They remind him that the press has
a great deal of power in a free society. All they want is compensation to keep The end of the play provides an interesting contrast between Mrs.
the paper in business. The doctor sarcastically responds that it would be a Stockmann and Petra. Mrs. Stockmann accepts her husband's eccentric
shame for a friend of the people like the People's Herald to go out of business, behavior. Petra, on the other hand, eagerly supports him. When he remarks
but since he is an enemy of the people, he could care less. He lunges for his that he doesn't know who will carry on after he dies, Petra says that problem
cane and tries to drive the newspapermen out the window into the gutter. They will be solved in time. Clearly, Petra can follow him--only she isn't a man. Ibsen
manage to escape. is highly conscious of gender issues. In a play otherwise about the extent to
which a free democracy is not free, Ibsen finds room to speak up for women.
Mrs. Stockmann, Petra, and Captain Horster want to know what is He also shows that the doctor's ideas, too, can be old-fashioned.
going on, but before the doctor tells them, he writes "No!" three times on a card
and sends it to Morten Kiil. He announces to his family that they are not going ANALYSIS
to sail for the New World but instead are going to stay and fight. Captain
Horster invites them to stay in his house. He will continue his medical practice Dr. Stockmann makes a discovery that he thinks will help the town. He
with the poorest patients, as everyone else will refuse him. He embraces his presses for changes to be made to the baths, but the town turns on him. Not
wife and asks her to look at how beautifully the sun is shining. He resolves to only have his scientific experiments been a waste of time, and not only will the
hunt down the wolves that control the city, and his only regret is that he doesn't townspeople suffer, but his freedom of speech and self-respect are being
know any men who can continue the mission after he dies. The doctor's sons attacked. He then decides that the only reason that the leaders have turned
arrive, having been sent home because they got into a fight. The doctor on him is that they are afraid of the people. He, thus, lashes out at the people.
decides that he will set up a school for poor children in the great hall where he He is motivated both by his anger and by true realizations about the corruption
was branded an enemy of the people. Mrs. Stockmann, however, is still of the town.
worried that the "wolves" might hunt him down. He replies that he is stronger
than the wolves, because he stands alone.

7
An Enemy of the People

It can be concluded that An Enemy of the People has two key who are now the stockholders in the company. If rumors get out about the
messages. First, it is a criticism of democracy. Second, it is the story of how baths being polluted, the stock will become worthless. The shareholders
one man's bravery and self-respect can survive overwhelming odds. control the baths, but the government also has a vested interest in maintaining
the baths, because the baths draw tourists who spend their money in the town
Ibsen's critique of democracy is twofold. First, he shows the tyranny of and, thus, keep the town's economy afloat. Also, the mayor is not only mayor
the majority. The majority is a tyrant insofar as the leaders of society are afraid of the city, he is also chairman of the baths.
to do what is right because they are at the people's mercy. Even though
Hovstad wanted to print the doctor's report on the baths, he was afraid to do How does the term "freethinking" function in An Enemy of the People?
so because his subscribers would be upset. The mayor cannot propose any
changes to the baths because the public might find out that the mayor had In the first act, Billing, Hovstad, Captain Horster, Petra, and Mrs.
made a mistake in the original plans and, thus, oust him. The majority is afraid Stockmann are talking. All of them seem to be freethinkers, except for Horster,
of risk and, according to the doctor, it is not intelligent enough to do what is who, to the amazement of the newspapermen, does not care about politics.
right. Petra complains about having to teach lies--which are never specified--in her
classes, and Billing and Hovstad eagerly discuss radical political ideas. They
While Ibsen illustrates the tyranny of the majority, he also shows how begin to discuss paganism, and Mrs. Stockmann makes the younger children
leaders can manipulate the majority. When Aslaksen and the mayor take leave. Although Mrs. Stockmann agrees with freethinking ideas, she is anxious
control of the town meeting, they are manipulating the majority, using the that her children not be exposed to them. Freethinkers, then, are enlightened
majority to their ends. It could be that Hovstad merely cited his subscribers' members of society who hold ideas that might clash with tradition. The idea of
possible wrath as an excuse because he himself did not want to print the "freethinking" also seems to refer to a set of ideas not rooted in practicality or
article. More likely, both he and his subscribers would have been against the societal pressure but in pure rational thought. This is a source of frustration to
doctor. Those who are in power, like Hovstad and the mayor, automatically Dr. Stockmann, who sees the extent to which the thoughts of the
guess what the majority will want, and they always try to please the majority. newspapermen are not free at all.
While Aslaksen and the mayor manipulated the audience at the town meeting,
they influenced them in the only way possible. In other words, it would have Why did Ibsen include the character of Captain Horster?
been almost impossible for the mayor to convince the crowd that they should
support the doctor's comments about the stupidity of the masses. Ibsen's idea One could say that the character of Horster is a convenience. He is an
is that the majority does not rule directly; instead, the idea and threat of the outsider who gives Dr. Stockmann a place to speak when no one else will. But
majority keeps leaders from acting honestly. Ibsen includes Horster in both the opening scene and emotional final scene,
where Horster is the only non-family member, and he is repeatedly offering to
The personal story of Dr. Stockmann is secondary. The key thing to help the Stockmanns in various ways. Yet he does not seem to care very much
remember is that he is extremely idealistic and maybe even a little naive and about the issues. There is little evidence that he agrees with Dr. Stockmann or
foolish. His wife, after all, feels compelled to remind him of practicalities. that he disagrees with the mayor. Instead, he symbolizes the calm man
existing outside of society.

STUDY QUESTIONS

Explain the finances of both the paper and the baths.

The paper, the People's Herald, barely stays in business. Aslaksen


does not work for the paper, but he owns the printing press that prints the
paper. He prints the paper on credit, on the assumption that he will be paid
later. Apparently, a good portion of the paper's income comes from
subscribers. The baths have been financed by a small group of wealthy men,